Monika returned from Boston in 1962. She joined the Weavers’ Service Centre in Mumbai to continue her study of weaving. Her time there overlapped with artist and educator K. G. Subramanyan’s; he was working on fibre sculptures that deeply inspired her. Back in America, the Fiber Art movement of the 1960s had taken a turn from a Bauhaus-influenced utilitarianism towards expressionism. Working with threads had acquired a new anti-establishmentarian charge and women artists like Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, Claire Zeisler and Kay Sekimachi worked towards an unorthodox exploration of tapestries.
With Monika, there was a desire to steer architecture and textile-making as construction-focused disciplines into a spirited conversation with each other. A memorable commission was the tapestries for the Four Seasons restaurant in the legendary architect Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building in New York. It was the legendary architect Philip Johnson who commissioned her.
Axis Mundi (1997-1999) is a significant example of Monika’s large-scale work; it is 12 feet wide and 8 feet high, created in several parts for the Sarjan Plaza in Mumbai. Pictorial in its form but allowing for an abstractness created through pixellated squares, the tapestry imagery dramatically changes depending on one’s viewerly distance. As mentioned earlier, architecture has been a special reference point in Monika’s work – the striking red Jamshedpur (2012), for example, with its suggestion of a form that is both insinuated and defined, responds to the idea of capturing the objectness of buildings as a series of ripply hints than as a catalogue of solid facts. Interestingly, the deceptive emergence of three-dimensional forms in such an understated but visually illusionary way reminds one of some of the Op Art works of the 1960s.
In the early 1980s, one of the most profound interventions Monika carried out was removing the reed, a comb-like structure that exists in the horizontal loom to keep the warp threads equidistant from each other. Not having learned weaving formally at university, Monika never felt restricted by any technical or psychological barriers while experimenting. She was determined and rebellious and figured her way out, even when specialists questioned her ideas. Removing the reed and changing the tension between the warp threads help contort the weft threads flowing through a piece. Most of Monika’s pieces use a bulky, handwoven woollen weft thread (ordered from Panipat and dyed in Mumbai) that distorts the delicate cotton warp, unaligned and unhindered. One can notice her experiments in removing the reed in the triptych The Banyan Tree (1984). The energy in the meandering warps is enhanced by the contrasting black and white threads.
Monika Correa. The Banyan Tree. Warp – unbleached white cotton and dyed back cotton;
Weft – unbleached white cotton and dyed back cotton. 180.3 cms x 266.7 cms. 1984. Images courtesy the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary.
In 1987, weaving was abidingly seen as a craft and not as an art form. Unfortunately, it still isn’t. In spite of heavy opposition by the acquisitions committee, The Banyan Tree became the first weaving piece to be collected by India’s National Museum. Later, in 1996, the Constitutional Court of South Africa commissioned Monika to make a similar piece. These notable acquisitions and commissions were an affirmation of Monika’s determination to change the process of weaving in various ways. In the late 1980s, she continued her experimentation with the reed, removing it halfway through her pieces. In Saligao (1985), the tapestry is woven sideways with only the left half of the reed in place. The unreeded part approximates the haziness of the sky.
In the last few years, Monika’s work has shed pictorial depiction. The meandering warp is often the expression itself, evoking feelings of abdicated control, swaying and liberating. Bold monochromatic pieces often index the weaver’s hand, making visible each and every warp and weft. Another technique used strategically by Monika is the extra-weft. The dynamism, dimensionality and depth of the landscape tapestry The Killing Fields (1985), for example, are impressive. Monika achieves this by looping the extra-weft strands on to the next line, creating perspective segments that define the rice fields.
Now in her 80s, her works continue to be acquired by international institutions like The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. She continues to experiment with weaves and designs, silently negotiating structures and creating energetic networks of lines and colours. In the words of the renowned crafts and art historian Jyotindra Jain, “Monika Correa has developed the medium into an exalted art form, at once transformative and expressive.”